Arts and Entertainment

Reviewers Still Aren’t Ready for Raunchy Women

Reviewers tank the majority of raunchy comedies with female leads without much consideration for the movie itself, as opposed to the genre.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The past few years have been groundbreaking for cinematic diversity. With an increasing number of female directors gracing the big screen and dominating film festivals, and the premiere of “Crazy Rich Asians” as the first film by a major Hollywood studio to feature an all-Asian cast since “The Joy Luck Club” in 1993, it would seem that the entertainment industry has finally started to recognize the audience appeal diversity delivers.

The multitude of comedies starring more and more women is a welcome change. But even sitting through “Crazy Rich Asians,” a groundbreaking film in its own right, what has become increasingly clear is that though the most successful of these movies feature women, they are the objects of ridicule, not the agents of the comedy. And it’s not hard to feel just a bit slighted by an audience and a host of reviewers so willing to laugh it up at desperate women being catty, or getting caught up in bitchy hijinks (the socially acceptable type of female humor).

That’s not to say that it’s not funny, nor that it’s inherently sexist. In theory, it should be fine to have movies where women are comedic objects as long as there are also movies like “Rough Night,” a female-led film more in the realm of the raunchy style of comedy traditionally dominated by men. The movie puts a bachelorette party in the role traditionally starring a group of men, filled with vulgar jokes, drunken missteps, and near-slapstick humor. The role reversal is only exacerbated as the bachelor party has wine tastings and overanalyzes texts from their significant others. It’s funny in its own right, but the aspect of it that was most compelling was that the humor lacks some of the jokes common in male comedies that can fall kind of flat to the female audience: cracks at being married and at nagging, tiresome wives or stuck up girlfriends. The diversity that it brings to humor opens a hilarious genre up to a massive group.

The issue is that the two types of female comedy are not granted even a similar level of respect by critics.

When one looks at the reviews of recent female-led comedies, something becomes glaringly obvious. There’s little variation in terms of the critical reception, even between movies that clearly differ in quality.

“Rough Night” received terrible reviews, with a 44 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and countless critics calling it highly derivative of “The Hangover”: poorly written, unable to balance clashing tones, and too dependent on stunts and raunchy humor. Almost every review said that for a movie that was supposed to be empowering, it didn’t deliver.

I read the reviews after seeing the movie. It was jarring simply because as a longtime fan of similar types of movies, from “Step Brothers” to “The Hangover,” I and everyone in the theater thought “Rough Night” was hilarious.

What was more troubling, however, wasn’t that I thought the reviews were too critical. It only became clear after seeing “The Spy Who Dumped Me,” a more recently released spy comedy. “The Spy Who Dumped Me” and “Rough Night” received disturbingly similar reviews despite the fact that the films were obviously of differing quality. The former lacked plot structure and faced the admittedly difficult task of melding comedy with the extreme violence of a spy thriller. Everything that critics disliked about “Rough Night” should have been attacked tenfold in reviews of “The Spy Who Dumped Me” if they were to legitimize their methods of judgment, but instead the criticism was basically identical.

The problems appear to be twofold. It’s increasingly apparent that the majority of movie critics have an inherently negative opinion of raunchy comedies with female leads, or enough of one that difference in quality between such movies isn’t even addressed. It’s as if the movies are being rated based on their genre, not their merit. It can’t be assumed, as it can with most movies, that the critical consensus regarding these movies is mostly accurate because it seems that at the heart of all of these critiques is the truth that maybe critics just aren’t ready for women in bawdy comedy. The top 25 highest-grossing R-rated movies are filled with raunchy movies, but “Bridesmaids” is the only female-led one to even crack the list.

The standards that these movies are being held to are unique to this genre. No raunchy comedy is entirely original, or even mostly original; it's the nature of the genre that there is a basic setup and type of humor that is similar across the board. To call “Rough Night” unoriginal is entirely unfair. By that measure, most comedies, romantic or otherwise, should’ve been horribly received. They weren’t, because a very basic similarity within genres is widely accepted as a given most of the time. But while it’s rightfully overlooked in the case of most movies, it is capitalized upon in these reviews.

What’s worse, it seems that every movie with a mainly female cast is supposed to further the feminist agenda. The criticisms that come along with these feminist critiques are that characters aren’t deep enough or are too ridiculous. But what reviewers fail to understand is that it’s impossible for a raunchy comedy to remain comedic while also featuring the high standard of character depth and professionalism demanded. No male comedy has been criticized for such a failure. The double standard is remarkably obvious. When “Bridesmaids” was released and became a success, people seemed to think that we had finally pushed past the ever-present stigma regarding women being “crude” or “lewd” in movies and in life. But it seems that every time the next “Bridesmaids” is released, it becomes a whole new referendum on the genre, and thus we get cookie-cutter reviews that all say the same thing. The movies are “derivative,” either of male counterparts or of one of the only successful female-led comedies of the genre. Basically, it’s not as funny as it was with guys, and it’s not as funny as that one good movie they made, so it’s just not funny.

Ironically, many reviews call movies like “Rough Night” not empowering enough. But if this trend continues, Hollywood may cease to finance movies in which women are agents of comedy, something that has just begun to gain traction. Cinema may be growing more diverse, but the presence of women in comedy doesn’t matter much if it’s only perpetuating an age-old stereotype of the uptight woman either working alongside zany guys or messing with others as a punchline. That’s why it’s so dangerous to implicitly trust the reviews; we’re pinning the legitimacy of a genre that women need on a broken system.